By ABDUl O. SABA
A specter is haunting Africa-the specter of identity-crisis. The sons and daughters of the Mother Continent have over the centuries been brutally severed from their roots through a series of Western-oriented programmes and a history of a systematic agenda of cultural genocide that has plunged the mass of African humanity into a current state of inauthentic existence and the corresponding episode of soul-searching in the hope to once again come to grips with the African self and reality.
This is the spirit behind the on-going vortex for the revitalization of African civilization as demonstrated in the harvest of literature on African humanity and philosophy, and as another acorn to this emergent African cultural oak come the book IGBO PHILOSOPHY: The Philosophy of the Igbo Speaking Peoples of Nigeria, by Professor T. Uzodinma Nwala.
Described by Chinua Achebe as a path-breaking volume in Igbo intellectual history, the work avails as a product of research spanning over 45 years starting from Nwala’s undergraduate research project in 1966-67 academic year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Taken from a biographical perspective, Igbo Philosophy can be appreciated as the passionate life-work that over the decades flowed from the pen of one of Africa’s most creative and outstanding philosophers who, as a factor of history; also happens to be the man who initiated the teaching of African Philosophy in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1972, from where it spread globally.
The book first appeared to the academic world in manuscript form in 1973.Its influence can be traced to Rev. Edeh’s work on Igbo Metaphysics and other works. The circulation of the book over the last decade has been mainly in photocopies, and whereas the first edition which has so far been in circulation was just about 280 pages, this present edition appears as a book of over 400 pages in volume following a production process that has been on for the last five years.
By approach, Igbo Philosophy demonstrates a movement away from works that tend to explain traditional worldview in terms of religious categories and a people’s worldview as if it descended from heaven above. Rather, the exposition builds upon the actual, realistic, and humanistic elements of the Igbo culture in the portrayal of several sociological, phenomenological, and even in certain respects, scientific and technological patterns along which the spirit of that which could be referred to as Igbo Philosophy found its expression. As for the composition of the book itself, a set of preliminary pages opens the work, and following this the reader is ushered into a cultural, historical, and epistemological treasure trove comprising of three sections and fifteen chapters.
Part A contains the introduction and another chapter dealing with the vexatious issue of the origins of the Igbos. Part B, on the other hand, deals with the Igbo traditional philosophy, with extensively deep treatment of Igbo traditional worldview, cosmological order and social control, thought and language in Igbo traditional society, Igbo traditional religious philosophy, Moral philosophy, Political philosophy, Economic philosophy and traditional philosophy of Art (aesthetics). Part C deals with Igbo contemporary thought patterns, examining such questions as the relation between traditional thought and contemporary thought, Christian thought and Igbo philosophy, Western education/ Science and Igbo philosophy. The conclusion comes after these
Moreover, and aside the author’s intellectual authority that is established upon decades of dedicated research in the area, Nwala’s personal affinity with the terrain of Igbo and African philosophy situates the book in a proper historical context, for it is now over 38 years since Uzodinma Nwala embarked on his intellectual odyssey as a pioneer scholar in the study of African philosophy, an adventure recounted by the author in the preface to the second edition, and an experience which beat through the labyrinths of Igbo philosophy into becoming a paradigm for the enterprise of African philosophy.
Having been provided with initial insight through the preface into the mind of the author and his connections to what became known as The Great Debate on African Philosophy, the introduction beckons, and invites the reader down a path that is replete with history, myths, legends, rituals, folklore, proverbs, idioms, skills, crafts, etc, all steeped in the rich world of the Igbos. In the Introductory chapter, Nwala states that he was writing for both the academic world and the world of the general public. He therefore treats such basic questions as the meaning of philosophy, the Egyptian origins of what is today academic philosophy, but insists that every organized human society possesses fundamental philosophical ideas and principles inherent in their culture.
He also goes on to show the differences between traditional philosophy and what is called critical philosophy, while arguing that traditional philosophy was not totally devoid of critical content. Finally, in this introductory chapter, he addresses the nature of Igbo traditional philosophy, summarizing it in the concept of Omenala Ndigbo (or Ako Ndigbo), what Mazi Mbonu Ojike calls Omenalism.
Chapter two deals with the question of who the Igbos are and on Igbo origins. Theories of Igbo origins as well as theories of Igbo connections to the Jews, Yoruba, Igala, etc, as well as the meaning of the word “Igbo”, ideological identity, and common historical experiences come under adequate analysis within this chapter.
From cover to cover, the book is sure to sound a death knell signaling the final laying to rest of the specter of identity-crisis for any haunted Igbo individual and community across the globe, replacing this with a congenial mood of affirmation and identity. Again, the experience that the book promises to every other reader, especially of African origin, is culturally refreshing, familiar and fluid, for as the ideas segue and the pages flow one into another, the reader feels the ghost of alienation being exorcised, to be possessed instead, by the re-assuring embrace of home-coming. Despite its intimidating size, IGBO PHILOSOPHY: The Philosophy of the Igbo-Speaking Peoples of Nigeria is certainly a must for every bookshelf, public or private: that is to be identified with the African Renaissance movement.